What was once a thriving colony of over 2000 weaver families has dwindled greatly and is now reduced to a mere handful who work at the hand operated looms.Chettinad cotton sarees are much loved for their vibrant colours and traditional patterns.The proprietors at both Senthil Kumar Textile (Karaikudi)as well as Sri Mahalakshmi Handloom weaving centre (Kanadukathan) have put in a lot of effort to ensure the continuance of this craft.The designs comprising of small and large checks,stripes contrasting with traditional borders depicting rudraksham and elephant motifs are what makes these sarees different. S.Subbaraman ( Senthil Textile)is determined to keep the looms going and Krishnaveni (Mahalakshmi Handloom) has initiated her daughter into the business.Her little granddaughter mimics her every word and is already adept at entertaining the customers.Needless to say she more than enticed us to leave with prized buys!
Tiles made at Athangudi can be easily identified by the glossy finish ,colour and patterns.At Sri Ganesh Tiles,we witnessed the fascinating tile making process that involved mixing ,filling,curing and polishing.
The men and women trained in this craft,create these tiles both by following a free hand technique or by using a metal template as ordered by the customer.If a free hand work tile is commissioned,the craftsman told us that it must be crafted by a single person in order to retain consistency of design,even if it means painstakingly creating over a 1000 pieces required to cover a whole floor.This kind of pride and dedication that they apply to their craft is truly what makes these Athangudi tiles a work of art.The mirror finish on these tiles is said to last for decades and is widely used in palatial homes throughout the Chettinad area.
A word of advice. When checking online for a tour of tile factories, the name ‘Athangudi Palace Tiles’ will pop up because they are active on social media.This was the place that we first visited,only to be met by staff that were LAZY , rude, disinterested and displayed a complete lack of enthusiasm.All this despite us paying the factory tour fees upfront.Stay clear of this place and visit the smaller tile layers in the area,who take more pride in their work and happily offer demos to interested tourists !
Sri Ganesh Flower Tiles:9486289875,04565281775
Weekly markets (sandhai) are popular in Chettinad.This one at Pallathur also sold the fresh catch of the day which apparently arrived from Rameshwaram on Friday afternoons. This was the first time that we had heard of fish being sold at any sandhai.We set off to explore the Pallathur sandhai which was a 20 minute car ride from Karaikudi. As we arrived at the clearing designated for parking ,the nostrils were attacked by fishy aromas. Miraculously we got accustomed to the smell in a few minutes and were able to walk around to view what was on display.We spotted crabs, prawns, whiting,sardines and seer fish.I then overhead a vendor shouting out that he had boneless fish for sale and was completely taken by surprise to see that he had a small catch of stingray displayed on the banana leaf before him.Do people really eat that,we wondered ?!
Karaikudi has some of the most unique things to attract shoppers.Behind the Koppadi Amman temple on kalukatti (street) is where there are rows of shops selling traditional kitchen and home accessories in wood, copper,brass and steel.Upon spotting a wooden idiappam ladle and brass wicker pulls,we happily added them to our shopping bag.The vendors here are very respectful and keep a polite distance.This is a place where both sides of the road are shops piled high with brass drums , copper vessels, old world sickles used for slicing veggies, coconut scrapers, ochre and cream coloured bellied and cylindrical jars meant for storing pickles and tamarind AND so many little things meant to simplify daily chores, that one never knew existed.
Just off the main street is a small lane, MM road(known as antique street) where traders do bustling business selling antiques that have been sold from the ancestral homes in the area.Visitors here are spoilt for choice.Most of the artifacts are brand new,in good condition and bargaining is allowed.Enamel ware of all shapes and sizes, door knobs, steel trunks and safes, intricate brass lamps, glass bottles,exquisite wooden furniture;the list is endless.A trip to Chettinad just cannot be complete without indulging in this one-of-a-kind retail therapy!
5.Heritage home stays
Out of the many heritage mansions in the Chettinad area,there are three that are popular as Heritage home stays.They are The Bangala , Visalam and Saratha Vilas .All of them offer the traveler an authentic experience that is true to the lifestyle lived by the Nattu Kottai Chettiar community.
At The Bangala guests can have the wonderful experience of interacting with the charismatic owner, Meenakshi Meyyappan who has spent her growing up years in and around the area.The care and hospitality extended to her guests by her staff are unparalleled whether in the choice of menus or assistance in seeing the sights. Guests can request a particular dish and Aunty Sab , as Mrs.Meyappan is affectionately known will go to great lengths to see that the particular food craving is taken care of satisfactorily. The staff are equally enthusiastic about offering information that will make the guests’ stay in Chettinad extremely memorable. (04565-220221)
Visalam, named after the owner’s daughter Visalakshi is managed by CGH earth.The grounds carry many artifacts and memorabilia of lives lived in leisure and travel.They also offer food plated in a traditional manner and organize tours in the Kanadukathan area.(04565-273354)
Friends who stayed at the Saratha Vilas spoke of the beautiful interiors and the various packages on offer.They also organise yoga retreats, nature walks and tours to those interested.
There is an easy camaraderie and understanding that guests staying at any one of these places are welcome to explore or dine at the others which makes the experience even more special.
For reservations, contact;